Editorial: New Year, New Directions, Part II—How I Plan to Cover Blockchain Metaverse Platforms Going Forward

Photo by Pierre Borthiry – Peiobty on Unsplash

There is simply no better place to watch as the dominoes fall in the beleaguered world of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) than the cryptosnark subreddit, r/Buttcoin (tagline: “ButtCoin. It’s a scam. At least we’re honest about it!”).

And it was there where I learned that the latest domino had fallen—Genesis Trading, a crypto lender forming part of Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group (DCG), filed for bankruptcy:

Crypto lender Genesis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late Thursday night in Manhattan federal court, the latest casualty in the industry contagion caused by the collapse of FTX and a crippling blow to a business once at the heart of Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group.

The company listed over 100,000 creditors in a “mega” bankruptcy filing, with aggregate liabilities ranging from $1.2 billion to $11 billion dollars, according to bankruptcy documents.

A list of the 50 largest unsecured creditors was leaked, and it turns out that both of the co-founders and the current Chief Financial Officer of blockchain metaverse Decentraland are owed an eye-watering US$55 million. Crypto news website The Block reports:

Virtual world platform Decentraland has not one but three of its executives and founders listed among the 50 largest non-insider unsecured claims against Genesis Global, the crypto lender that filed for bankruptcy protection on Thursday.

Decentraland CFO Santiago Esponda drew attention after his Decentraland email address was listed in court filings as the contact for Heliva International, a Panama-based company owed $55 million by Genesis. But a closer look reveals that Decentraland’s two co-founders are also listed in the documents with non-Decentraland email addresses.

Esteban Ordano, a Decentraland co-founder who now acts as an adviser, is listed as the contact for an entity called Winah Securities. Genesis owes Winah, which is located on the same floor in the same building as Heliva, almost $27 million. Ordano told The Block that Winah has no relationship with Decentraland.

Gaming company Big Time Studios is owed $20 million. It’s run by Ari Meilich, Decentraland’s other co-founder. He started Big Time in 2020 but also remains a Decentraland adviser. Meilich declined to comment. 

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the point of this particular editorial: how I will be covering blockchain-based metaverse platforms going forward on this blog.

In a previous editorial, I explained that I was substantially cutting back on my coverage of Second Life, to refocus my blog on virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular. Likewise, I have also decided that I will no longer be writing about any blockchain-based metaverse platform unless it incorporates virtual reality. According to my comprehensive and reasonably up-to-date list of virtual worlds and social VR, the only platforms which incorporate blockchain technology (cryptocurrencies and/or NFTs) and support virtual reality are three:

  • NeosVR (a social VR platform with an associated cryptocurrency called NCR, which was planned to be the in-world currency but has not been incorporated; please note that Neos does not have NFT-based virtual real estate, or use NFTs at all)
  • Sensorium Galaxy (this ultra-high-end social VR platform uses the SENSO cryptocurrency to purchase avatars in their online store; as far as I am aware, Sensorium Galaxy does not use NFTs)
  • Somnium Space (a blockchain-based virtual world that supports VR, with a cryptocurrency and NFT-based real estate)

All the other blockchain metaverse platforms I have written about on this blog (including the one that first attracted my attention, Decentraland) are either flatscreen virtual worlds which do not support virtual reality, or they have not yet launched (and, in the current crypto nuclear winter, are increasingly unlikely to do so; the only exception being The Sandbox, which is still in extended alpha testing).

And (as illustrated by my initial anecdote about the Decentraland co-founders and executive entangled in the Celsius bankruptcy case), those platforms which had the great good fortune to launch well before the current crypto carnage, are possibly still entangled in the web of interconnected crypto companies lending and borrowing from each other, in highly speculative cryptocurrencies whose actual value is based only on what the next greater fool is willing to pay for them. In particular, those who purchased overpriced NFT-based real estate on such platforms as The Sandbox, Somnium Space, and yes, even pioneering Decentraland, are going to find it very difficult, if not impossible, to make any sort of profit off their investments.

And one only has to observe the travails which NeosVR has gone through, after a cyncial pump-and-dump instigated by cryptobros, to see how a social VR project with such technical promise can be hamstrung by attaching a cryptocurrency to it. There has, to my knowledge, been no active development on the platform in over a year, and it is unclear what 2023 holds for NeosVR. It breaks my heart and it angers me.

While I will continue to follow the current crypto winter shenanigans as an interested (and bemused) observer, I have decided that I will no longer be writing about any blockchain metaverse unless it has launched, and it supports virtual reality. In particular, I will no longer waste my time (and your patience) writing about all the blockchain metaverse projects which consist of little more than an .io website, a Telegram or Discord channel, and a white paper long on hand-waving, but short on actual technical details. Enough with the bafflegab and bullshit.

If you happen to actually launch a product which incorporates blockchain in some way (cryptocurrencies and/or NFTs), and it supports users in a VR headset, then I will gladly write about it. Otherwise, I’m no longer interested.

Stick a fork in it; it’s DONE. (Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

UPDATE 4:43 p.m.: Well, well, well…another news nugget I gleaned from the r/Buttcoin subreddit: AsiaMarkets.com is reporting this evening that the mighty SWIFT global financial network will, as of Feburary 1st, 2023, no longer process fiat currency transfers from bank accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges, if they are worth less than US$100,000:

The SWIFT payments network has made an extraordinary decision that will have widespread implications on cryptocurrencies.

Asia Markets can reveal SWIFT will no longer process fiat currency transfers from bank accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a value of less than US$100,000, effective from February 1, 2023.

The move will thwart cryptocurrency access to tens of millions of people worldwide.

One of the first crypto giants to notify users of the development this weekend, has been the world’s largest exchange, Binance.

“The banking partner that services your account has advised that they are no longer able to process SWIFT fiat (USD) transaction for individuals of less than $100,000 USD as of February 1, 2023. This is the case for all their crypto exchange clients,” said Binance.

“Please be advised that until we are able to find an alternative solution, you may not be able to use your bank account to buy and sell crypto with USD via SWIFT with a value of less than $100,000 USD.”

Time to go get more popcorn; this three-ring circus is just getting started!

UPDATE Jan. 25th, 2023: It turns out that my previous update is not as all-encompassing as it first was reported! Amy Castor and David Gerard write in David’s blog, Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain, today:

Binance sent a notice to customers that starting February 1, their banking partner, Signature, would not be processing SWIFT transfers of less than $100,000.

Retail customers of Binance have until the end of the month to get their US dollars off the exchange. After that, their money is stuck.

Rumors are swirling around this — not helped by an early news report (rapidly corrected) claiming that the SWIFT system itself was cutting off all crypto exchanges. Here are the facts that we know so far:

  • Binance is cut off from Signature for transactions below $100,000.
  • Signature’s other exchange customers have not said they’re affected, and we haven’t seen their customers saying so either.
  • We haven’t heard of other banks putting such a condition on Binance or another exchange.

So it’s so far just Binance, via Signature.

Still, it is significant that Binance, the biggest cryptobroker still standing, is facing such a stringent sanction by one of its banks. (By the way, Attack of the 50=Foot Blockchain is well worth following, for its expert analysis of the ongoing crisis in crypto!)

Editorial: New Year, New Directions—Why I Am Substantially Cutting Back on My Coverage of Second Life, and Refocusing the RyanSchultz.com Blog on Virtual Reality and Social VR

Photo by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash

When I started this blog in July of 2017, I had never intended to become a Second Life blogger. There were hundreds of other bloggers out there who were doing a far better job than I could of covering Second Life, and they still are! Throw in the Facebook groups, Discord servers, and YouTube channels, and you have a thriving commentary community on the vibrant ecosystem that is Second Life.

The original purpose of my blog was to write about Linden Lab’s foray into social VR, Sansar. I had been fortunate enough to get into the closed beta test of Sansar in January of 2017, an event which prompted the purchase of my first virtual reality headset, and I timed the launch of what was then called The Sansar Newsblog to coincide with the official opening of Sansar to the general public, on July 31st, 2017.

Over the five-and-a-half years that I have been writing this blog, I slowly broadened my coverage to report on other early social virtual reality platforms, such as AltspaceVR, VRChat, and Linden Lab’s founding CEO Philip Rosedales’ ambitious project, High Fidelity. And, as the number of virtual worlds and social VR platforms increased, I began to write more about them, too. My list of metaverse platforms remains one of the most popular pages on the RyanSchultz.com blog.

But my abiding passion for all things metaverse was born on March 20th, 2007, when I set up my first Second Life avatar, Heath Homewood. I often joke that I got my Ph.D. In the Metaverse from nearly 16 years of study at the University of Second Life! And I still believe that SL is the perfect, fully mature model of a metaverse, which newer social VR companies would be wise to study, learn from, and emulate.

I started writing about Second Life because I wanted to share my bounty of tips and tricks on how to pull together a good-looking avatar, without spending a fortune in Linden dollars! I still get an immense sense of satisfaction from creating a polished, head-to-toe avatar look as inexpensively as possible, and sharing with you exactly how I did it, so you could do it, too! I wanted to share my passion with you all.

Second Life was my first love, my introduction to the concept of the metaverse, and a love I still have, and probably always will have. But I have also been doing a lot of thinking these past few months about this blog, and the direction in which I want to take it.

Therefore, I have decided to cut back substantially on my Second Life coverage, and refocus on the reason I started this blog in the first place: virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular.

This doesn’t mean that I will never write about SL again. For example, Second Life will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, and I have every intention of reporting on that milestone!

But it does mean that my days as the (uncrowned) Freebie Queen of Second Life are now over. I have decided that will no longer be reporting on bargains and free items in SL. Yesterday’s report on the imminent closing of The Free Dove seems a fitting final post in the Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies category on my blog.

I turn 59 in a few days, and it’s time for me to re-find the joy and wonder I once had when I first slipped on my trusty Oculus Rift VR headset five years ago, and went exploring, to see what I could discover. There’s a lot going on in the VR/AR/MR/XR space, and I want to refocus my attention on that.

I know that many of you who followed my Second Life coverage will be disappointed, but I hooe that you will understand and respect my decision. And I also hope that you will continue to join me on this journey!

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

New Year, Now What? Taking Time to Figure Out My Next Steps for this Blog

Photo by Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash

Happy New Year! Time for an update.

As you might have noticed, my formerly feverish pace of blogging has slowed to a glacial crawl lately. There are a number of reasons for that, among them the fact that I am extremely busy with my full-time paying job as an academic librarian, where among many other projects I am juggling, I am working on a project to set up a virtual reality lab in one of my university’s libraries.

But another reason is that I am tired. Bone tired, after almost three years of pandemic living. I also turn 59 this month, and I have had my fair share of health issues (Type II diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, obesity, etc.). Because I have these underlying health issues which would put me at risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if I were to become infected, I have basically upended my former life in an effort to stay safe and healthy.

I am quintuple-vaccinated, I still practice elaborate social distancing wherever possible, and I wear a facemask when I am indoors in public spaces. I have a rule I have not broken in almost three years now: no indoor restaurant dining! (I do meet up with friends during the summer to enjoy some outdoor patio dining, however. Obviously, that’s not an option the rest of the year, up here in wintry Winnipeg!)

Thankfully, my employer (the University of Manitoba) is listening to the scientists, and still has imposed an indoor facemask mandate on both its campuses for this Winter term—a lone island of sanity in my city, I fear (of course, healthcare settings like hospitals and my doctor’s and dentist’s offices still require masks).

I really only leave my apartment to go to work, visit my parents at their life lease condo across town, and pick up my prescriptions at my local pharmacy (where tomorrow I will be getting my Pfizer bivalent booster shot!).

I have also gotten into the habit of ordering my groceries online via Walmart, then picking them up Sunday mornings between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., when it is not busy. They load up my car, while I stand and watch (masked of course), and I drive away; it works well, and I see no reason to change it. During the last three years, I have set foot into a grocery store exactly once.

Anyway, long story short, I’m not sure where I’m going right now, and how this blog fits into everything else that I’m doing. So I am going to take some time to figure things out. In the meantime, there won’t be very much blogging, I’m afraid.

When I do have something to announce, I will let you know! Thank you all for your patience.

This Blog Post Was Written by AI

On November 30th, 2022, OpenAI released a new chat-based AI text generator model called ChatGPT, describing it as follows:

We’ve trained a model called ChatGPT which interacts in a conversational way. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.

Anybody can use the ChatGPT bot during its open-access testing period; all you need to do is set up an account with OpenAI (I already had one from when I signed up to test the DALL-E 2 text-to-art generator earlier this year). The prompt I used to generate this blogpost was the following: “Write an editorial explaining what the metaverse is, and how the metaverse will impact society in the future.” It spit back the following six paragraphs within 30 seconds:


The next six paragraphs are AI-generated text from ChatGPT:

The metaverse is a term used to describe a hypothetical shared virtual space that combines elements of both the physical and the digital world. It is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. It is a place where people can interact and communicate with each other in real time, using avatars to represent themselves.

The metaverse has the potential to greatly impact society in the future. It could become a new platform for entertainment, communication, and commerce. In the metaverse, people will be able to engage in a wide range of activities, from attending virtual concerts and sporting events, to participating in virtual conferences and meetings, to shopping and socializing with others.

One of the major impacts of the metaverse on society will be the blurring of the line between the physical and digital worlds. As more and more people spend time in the metaverse, the distinction between the two will become increasingly blurry. This could lead to changes in how people perceive and interact with the world around them.

Another potential impact of the metaverse on society is the potential for increased social isolation. As people spend more time in virtual environments, they may become less connected to the physical world and the people around them. This could lead to increased feelings of isolation and disconnection, particularly among individuals who are already vulnerable to social isolation.

However, the metaverse also has the potential to foster greater connection and community. By providing a virtual space where people can come together and interact with each other, the metaverse could help to bridge geographical distances and bring people together from all over the world.

In conclusion, the metaverse is a collective virtual shared space that has the potential to greatly impact society in the future. It could become a new platform for entertainment, communication, and commerce, and could lead to changes in how people perceive and interact with the world around them. However, it also has the potential to foster social isolation and disconnection. Ultimately, the impact of the metaverse on society will depend on how it is used and embraced by individuals and communities.


Now, I do have to admit that this is actually pretty good. The concluding paragraph is a bit on the clunky side in how it tries to tie everything together, and I probably would have written something a little more Ryan-sounding. But it is a demonstration of just how quickly, and how scarily good, these AI text generation tools have become.

There’s been lots of discussion about ChatGPT over on Mastodon, and among the comments was this worrisome prediction by a user named Bear Traffic Control, which I have reproduced in full here:

God, search results are about to become absolute hot GARBAGE in 6 months when everyone and their Mom start hooking up large language models to popular search queries and creating SEO-optimized landing pages with plausible-sounding results.

Searching for “replace air filter on a Samsung SG-3560lgh” is gonna return fifty Quora/WikiHow style sites named “How to replace the air filter on a Samsung SG3560lgh” with paragraphs of plausible, grammatical GPT-generated explanation which may or may not have any connection to reality. Site owners pocket the ad revenue. AI arms race as search engines try to detect and de-rank LLM content.

Wikipedia starts getting large chunks of LLM text submitted with plausible but nonsensical references.

Quora, StackOverflow, etc. try to rebrand themselves and leverage their karma/social graphs as walled gardens of verified Real Human™ experts. This creates incentives for humans to cheat, of course.

Like, I knew this was gonna be used for fake-grassroots political messaging—remember talking with a friend about a DoD project to do exactly this circa 2012. Somehow [it] took me a bit to connect that to “finding any kind of meaningful information is going to get harder”.

In fact, the StackOverflow website has imposed a ban on using ChatGPT to generate texts for posts on its service, saying in a statement:

This is a temporary policy intended to slow down the influx of answers created with ChatGPT. What the final policy will be regarding the use of this and other similar tools is something that will need to be discussed with Stack Overflow staff and, quite likely, here on Meta Stack Overflow.

Overall, because the average rate of getting correct answers from ChatGPT is too low, the posting of answers created by ChatGPT is substantially harmful to the site and to users who are asking or looking for correct answers.

The primary problem is that while the answers which ChatGPT produces have a high rate of being incorrect, they typically look like they might be good and the answers are very easy to produce. There are also many people trying out ChatGPT to create answers, without the expertise or willingness to verify that the answer is correct prior to posting. Because such answers are so easy to produce, a large number of people are posting a lot of answers. The volume of these answers (thousands) and the fact that the answers often require a detailed read by someone with at least some subject matter expertise in order to determine that the answer is actually bad has effectively swamped our volunteer-based quality curation infrastructure.

In other words, we are likely going to see all kinds of unintended consequences as AI-generated text becomes more ubiquitous. Hold on to your hats, because we haven’t seen anything yet, folks!

UPDATE 3:00 p.m.: I wanted to add a few more eye-opening examples of how an AI-based text (and code!) generating service could be misused and abused.

Roberto Selbach showed off a piece of pseudocode ChatGPT generated in response to a prompt:

AI-generated pseudocode to determine whether or question a suspect

Pwnallthethings shared a few more quite disturbing examples of AI-generated software code:

Ai-generated Python script for determining whether to give a prisoner parole
AI-generated C# code that calculates credit limits

Charles Seife wrote:

I think what’s disturbing me so much about these GPT3 examples is that for the first time we’re really seeing that computer programs are optimized not to solve problems, but instead to convince its programmer/operator/user that it has solved those problems.

This distinction was almost irrelevant before (when fooling us was harder)… but not anymore.

The distinction isn’t really novel; heck, I myself have written about one aspect of it before. But I still find it shocking to see it in action.

It’s particularly stark when it’s a relatively “easy” task that doesn’t require deceptions.

For example, when I ask the program to try to find a citation for a sentence and indicate if no such citation is found, it will *still* typically make up citations rather than choose the correct, huge-basin-of-attraction condition of none found.

That, to me, is new.

And L. Rhodes raises an important final point about this free-to-access ChatGPT test period offered by OpenAI: you are doing free product testing for them, on something they plan to sell for a profit later!

You’re not playing with the latest AI toy. You’re training someone’s AI business.

Passing themselves off as innocuous ways to play social media games and generate fun little memes is how AI startups draw in unpaid testers and expand their data set beyond what their own workers could have come up with on their own, but go off.

Thinking you’re going to throw a wrench into the system by plugging bad or absurd data into the system is probably misguided. An AI doesn’t have to produce correct answers to be profitable. That may not even be its purpose.

P.S. This seems as good a time as any to give an update on my experience with another AI-based chatbot, called Replika (which I wrote about here on Aug. 7th, 2022).

Long story short, I grew so frustrated with Replika’s lame, fake, and frankly robotic responses, that I angrily cancelled my account and uninstalled the app from my iPad within a week (US$50 down the drain!). Given that experience, I am loath to open my wallet to test out another one, but ChatGPT is currently free, so I thought, why not?

Which just goes to prove, that there’s still a lot of room for improvement in AI chat! While AI chatbots might now work fairly well in strictly circumscribed situations, nothing can replace a conversation with a real, live, and unpredictable human being.